by LAURA HAYES
In Amanda Indra’s classroom, third-grade Spanish Language Immersion Program (SLIP) students came up to the front of the class in pairs to correct a sentence. A lot of the errors in the sentence, Indra said after the lesson, were common spelling mistakes for Spanish speakers writing in English, such as using the letter “u” instead of “oo.”
“It’s been really amazing to make some of those connections between the languages,” Indra said. SLIP is an immersion program based in Madison where students work to become bilingual.
Beginning in third grade, teachers start to reintegrate English into the curriculum. Last school year, SLIP students took the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) for the first time since the implementation of the program in 2014. During a recent School Board meeting, Madison Principal Andrea Eisner announced that Madison’s third-grade reading scores went up from 52.9 percent of students proficient to 60 percent of students proficient. She told the board that SLIP staff had expected the reading scores to take a hit, and while she was excited to see the bump up, she was interested in looking at the data as the students move through the school district.
“That was a nice surprise as research will show you, traditionally, immersion students will score lower than their peers initially and then surpass them in later years of testing,” Winona Area Public Schools Director of Learning and Teaching Kelly Halvorsen said.
From day one of SLIP, students are immersed in Spanish.There are numerous benefits of SLIP, first-grade teacher Erin Siemback said, including bilingualism, bi-literacy, multiculturalism, new job opportunities in the future, and complex problem-solving abilities. For a majority of their first three years of the program, students speak Spanish all day, the exceptions being when they attend art, music, or physical education.
In third grade, SLIP staff begin introducing English to the students. How does SLIP re-integrate English into the curriculum? A little over half the school day is taught in Spanish, and the rest is taught in English. Starting in third grade, the students physically go to another teacher to learn English. “We feel very strongly that they need a different face for English than Spanish,” Indra, who teaches English to SLIP third graders, said. “When they come in, they have a language that they know they have to speak to that teacher.”
During the English part of the school day, the students will cover English language arts (ELA) and part of their science and social studies lessons. The same ELA standards are covered in both SLIP and non-SLIP classrooms. “I might have to supplement some things for phonics that [the non-SLIP teacher] might not have to,” Indra added.
As of this school year, SLIP is school-wide at Madison. Siemback said the program has rolled out as expected. Indra moved from teaching second-grade SLIP students to now teaching third- and fourth-grade SLIP students. Over the years, Indra has seen the students’ Spanish and English skills grow. Because she has already had these students, Indra is able to connect lessons from then to what she’s teaching now.
In 2016, administrators presented the School Board with a plan for the program’s future moving through the Winona Middle School (WMS) and Winona Senior High School (WSHS). According to the plan at the time, 50 percent of the SLIP students’ core instruction at WMS — specifically science and social students class — will be taught in Spanish and there will be an elective taught entirely in Spanish. When the students transitioned to WSHS, they can take Advanced Placement Spanish as freshmen and then college-level Spanish for the remainder of their high-school careers. “As a SLIP team, we’re meeting this fall to finalize those plans and present any changes to the board, should that be necessary,” Halvorsen said.